2012 NHL Preview: The Southeast Division

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The Southeast is a division of change as they hold some of the youngest franchises in the NHL but also some of the most exciting. The division is full of franchises that have made a small impact on the league but many are only recent additions to the league. Even if they have been the in the league for a while these teams are still making things exciting in the NHL. The division is full of some of the biggest and most creative stars in the league along with some great comeback stories. Last year the division saw one of the bigger surprises in the league as the Florida Panthers would win the division. The Panthers are a team that has been around for a while in the NHL and they continue to stay relevant despite constantly being the underdog. The Washington Capitals would be the biggest losers finishing in second after years of being the dominant team. Washington has rebuilt their image over the past few years and at the heart of it has been a very exciting team built for the new NHL and led by superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Meanwhile the other team in Florida underwent their own rebranding last year introducing a new logo and new uniforms. Still their on-ice product would not make the playoffs despite having one of the most exciting young talents in the game. Then there is the completely new team born from a team collapsed years before. The Winnipeg Jets did not have a very successful season but the fanfare has not died down for a city with a second chance. The Hurricanes are another one of the new teams who have had their time in the sun winning a Stanley Cup in 2005-06. They still look to get back to that level in a division that can regularly be up grabs in any given season. The Southeast division is never a lock for any of these teams as all teams look to have a season like the Panthers. All teams look to build their legacy with many teams still building a following through the years that they have been in the league. The division this year will be another good battle with teams looking for their shot at the playoffs in this lockout season.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

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The Hurricanes would be the leaders of an era where the youngest franchise would dominate the league. It would start in 2005 after the last lockout when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup becoming one of the first new teams to win the championship. Last year was not the same team as that 2005-06 team though as they struggled all year. They would finish last in the division after a terrible start that they could not recover from. This year they are looking to start very fast with a shortened season not allowing for a slow start. They would go into the free agent market to look for some additions that could help them get that start that they need this year. The ‘Canes would go out and get a number of big players including Alexander Semin but their biggest addition would be a family reunion. The Hurricanes have always looked to Eric Staal to lead the team and he has done the best he can do. Now the 2013 version of the team will look to another Staal to help Eric on the top line. Carolina would trade for Jordan Staal who was sitting on the third line in Pittsburgh waiting for his shot at the top line. He will now get it alongside his brother Eric for Carolina as these two brothers will become the power of the team. The Hurricanes have made some good improvements to their team this year which should be an improvement but they will find themselves out of the playoffs if they start like they did last year.

 

Strength:
The Staal Connection
– The addition of Jordan Staal was one of the best in the offseason as he will join his brother on the top line and will finally get the chance to show his skills alongside the person who knows him better than anyone else 

Weakness:
Slow Starters
– The Hurricanes have begun to get a reputation for starting off the season slow and heating up at the end while trying to climb into a playoff spot and this year they will not have that luxury as they need to start fast or could be out before they know it

Biggest Addition:
Jordan Staal, C (Trade via Pittsburgh Penguins)
– They added a number of good players to the team but the addition of Jordan Staal adds an immediate upgrade on the top line and the match up of the two Staal brothers is something that many hope for 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The hurricanes would trade away their top centre Brandon Sutter but the trade would bring in a better top line centre so there were really no big losses this year for the Hurricanes as they upgraded a few spots and didn’t lose anyone important

 

Florida Panthers:

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The Florida Panthers have a flair for the dramatic as they always seem to find themselves in the same situation. Every year the Panthers are kept out of the favorite columns as they are expected to falter and miss the playoffs. Then the Panthers end up making a great run at the division title and move into the playoffs. They would do it in 1995-96 when they would surprise everyone by making the Stanley Cup Finals only two years after they entered the league. Last year was much the same as they would come on strong in the last few months of the season to win the division. The Panthers would not last too long in the playoffs though as they would be eliminated in the first round. The Panthers go into the 2012 season with the hope that last year was not a fluke. In 1995-96 the Panthers would win the Eastern Conference and the next season would make the playoffs but be eliminated quickly. This year they are hoping that this does not happen again as they look to repeat as division champions. The Panthers believe they have the core that can win again this year and so they made sure the core players stayed. The Panthers were a very active team this year in the offseason but they would ensure that their core players remained with the defending division champions. The Panthers will still not be favorites though as they had a good season and will not have the same season this year as they will likely finish out of the playoffs.

 

Strength:
Solid Core
– The Panthers did win the division last year which means they had something on the team that can translate to a win and the Panthers have seen that as they have kept the core together for the 2013 season 

Weakness:
The Letdown
– After a season where they surprised everyone including themselves the biggest challenge is to prevent a massive letdown as if they come out struggling they may get down on themselves and fall into a hole they can’t get out of 

Biggest Addition:
Peter Mueller, C (Free Agent)
– Mueller has had some injury issues in the past but he has shown signs of being a true scoring threat and if a change of scenery to Florida does him good the Panthers may have picked up their next offensive star 

Biggest Loss:
Jason Garrison, D (Free Agent)
– He was one of their best blue liners earning 33 points to help the team to the playoffs and he would be one of the few impact players who would leave with the closest replacement nowhere near the offensive player that Garrison is

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

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The Tampa Bay Lightning were a team that was looking for change in the 2011-12 season as they would change their logo and their jerseys to start anew. The biggest part of this change was their young superstar Steven Stamkos who has quickly become one of the best forwards in the game. Stamkos couldn’t carry the team by himself though as last year the Lightning would fall from what looked like an upswing. They would finish in third place and out of the playoffs in large part due to their goaltending. The Lightning have been one of the many teams in the NHL that has seen one of their most important positions falter time and time again. The goaltending position is extremely important in the NHL as it can mean the difference between a Stanley Cup and a missing the playoffs. The Lightning are a team that has not seen a great goaltender lead them to wins in a long time. This year though they are looking to turn that around with a new goaltender who was considered the best backup in the league last year. With a new goalie the Lightning are hoping that they can get back into the playoffs and back to the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are a good team but a lot will rely on Lindback and if the starting role is meant for him. Expect them to make the playoffs this year but a Stanley Cup run may be out of the sights with some inexperience in a very important position.

 

Strength:
The New Additions
– The Lightning may not have signed the biggest and best in the offseason but they did sign some key pieces that have made the team better and able to earn a playoff spot if these new parts can adjust to a new team quickly 

Weakness:
The Unknown
– Anders Lindback is by far their best pickup but they went out to get him with only a few games under his belt as his status as a starting goalie is extremely untested and that could mean problems for a team still trying to find that next great netminder 

Biggest Addition:
Anders Lindback, G (Trade via Nashville Predators)
– The Lightning needed a goalie and they got one as they would pickup the best backup goalie in the NHL last year and even if he is unproven he is a goalie that has all of the potential in the world to be a great netminder 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Lightning lost a few players this year but none of them would make a major impact on the team this year as they were all replaced by as good or better payers as they took more steps forward than they did backwards

 

Washington Capitals:

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Much like the Tampa Bay Lightning the Capitals underwent an image overhaul albeit much before the Lightning did it. They would change their logo and jerseys and would hitch their team to a bright star. They would also be the team that represented the new NHL after the last NHL lockout. They were a team built for speed and skill with Alexander Ovechkin leading the way. The team would be successful in the new NHL as they would become a new power team led by one of the best young players in the league. Although they had great success they could never seem to take that last step into the Stanley Cup Finals. To try to change things Bruce Boudreau would look to the 2011-12 season as a chance to change the style of play to add the grittiness that had been missing in the playoffs. The experiment would fail for the Capitals as Ovechkin and the rest of the high-flying lineup would end up out of the playoffs. Boudreau would be fired and replaced by Adam Oates who would help the team at the end of the season last year. Now the Caps move into a new season with a new coach who they hope will add the grittiness needed to compete in the playoffs while still letting the superstars skate free. This year the Capitals will look to Oates and Ovechkin to lead the team to the playoffs once again after a failed experiment. The Capitals will likely make the playoffs again and will be a strong contender for the division crown.

 

Strength:
Calm Falls
– The circus is over for the time being as the 2011-12 season was one that many would rather forget as Bruce Boudreau would try to change the style of the team unsuccessfully leading to his firing and an unhappy superstar 

Weakness:
No Time for a new System
– Adam Oates takes over but now he has 48 games to get his team to buy in to another new system and if he is unsuccessful games might not be the only thing he loses as the stars will start to leave a team that cannot win 

Biggest Addition:
Mike Ribeiro, C (Trade via Dallas Stars)
– With so many great offensive powerhouses the Capitals needed someone exactly like Ribeiro who is as close to Adam Oates as you can get as he will add that grittiness that the Capitals have been missing for years 

Biggest Loss:
Alex Semin, RW (Free Agent)
– Semin was a bit of a headache as he would be great at one point and terrible at other points but the fact is when he is on he is one of the premier goal scorers in the league and without him more of the pressure falls on Ovechkin

 

Winnipeg Jets:

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The Winnipeg Jets are the youngest franchises in the NHL as they were just added to the league last year. It was a great story last year as the Jets were a team that had been around before but failed due to many things outside of their control. The team would leave Winnipeg in 1998 for Atlanta after they could not keep up with rising costs in one of the smallest markets in the NHL. Then the Atlanta Thrashers would be forced to leave the Southern US and Winnipeg was waiting with new aspects in place that could protect them from another folding. The Jets would have a decent season considering the team was thrown together at the very last moment and would be stuck in a division that would have them travel farther than any other team. They would finish in fourth place but that wouldn’t matter to the fans who were just happy to have a team back in the city. That will not last though as the Jets will need to start winning if they hope to continue the massive fan support. This year they would add a few players and will see their top prospect likely make an impact on the team as another year should be good for the team. The Jets are still welcoming the massive support from their fans which makes for a very tough home arena for opponents and that means good things for the team. They will be better this year but playoffs may be tough to come by for a team still trying to figure themselves out.

 

Strength:
Added Experience
– The Jets spent their time in the offseason adding more veterans to the team that should have a bigger impact including Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky who should provide a stabilizing effect to a team that is young from management to players 

Weakness:
The Honeymoon is Ending
– The love for the team will never die in Winnipeg but the fact is they got a free pass last year and every year that goes by without a playoff appearance the pressure increases and so does the scrutiny in a Canadian market 

Biggest Addition:
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW (Free Agent)
– Jokinen is good but Ponikarovsky is a player that can have a bigger impact on the score sheet as he will provide more depth in the top lines giving the team more scoring from their bottom lines that should make them harder to match up against 

Biggest Loss:
Tim Stapleton, RW (Free Agent)
– He is not the most impactful player on the lineup but he did give the Jets 27 points last year for the team as a good contributor and he is the type of player that the Jets seem to want to recruit to their team

 

Prediction:
1. Washington Capitals
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Florida Panthers
4. Winnipeg Jets
5. Carolina Hurricanes

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